Did later realist novelists like Austen, the Brontes and Dickens also claim to be true and authentic, as Defoe did with Robinson Crusoe?It has been suggested that Defoe did so because of the...

Did later realist novelists like Austen, the Brontes and Dickens also claim to be true and authentic, as Defoe did with Robinson Crusoe?

It has been suggested that Defoe did so because of the Puritan suspicion against fiction. I’d like to know whether the later novelists (Austen, Bronte Sisters, Dickens) did this.


2 Answers

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It appears that DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe was based upon William Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World and the actual experiences of Alexander Selkirk, as told by Selkirk to DeFoe. DeFoe's attention to detail made his work seem particularly realistic, and Robinson Crusoe (or The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) was an immediate success, especially because of its sense of "realism."

Decades later, Theophilus Cibber says, '[it] was written in so natural a manner...it was judged by most people to be a true story.'

This genre of writing is known as "realistic fiction," specifically the fictional autobiography. It is difficult to know for certain if DeFoe's intent in composing the story was anything more than to share his gift of writing, with hopes of financial success. However, the story is seen by some to be an allegory describing the growth of the British Empire, criticism of "economic individualism," or even an allegory of DeFoe's own life, which is made up of diverse and amazing experiences. (Ultimately DeFoe would be "forced" to act as a spy for the Tories.)

Robinson Crusoe was never published under a pseudonym—DeFoe published it under his own name. It was so popular that a second edition was printed within two weeks of the first, and pirated copies were available only days after its release. It appears he never hid his authorship of the book.

In terms of other authors, such as Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and Charles Dickens, I do not believe they printed any of their stories as fictional autobiographies. Austen clearly wrote not only to impart a story, but to draw attention to aspects of society that she felt needed to be improved upon (as with Pride and Prejudice). Charlotte Brontë and sister Emily Brontë wrote stories that also had obvious purpose. Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights tries to comprehend the protagonist who is torn between love and a hunger to feel "good enough"—considering the human condition. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was gothic fiction but also observed questions about the double-sided nature of religious faith and hypocrisy, the relationship between men and women, the recognition of "self," society's treatment of women and children and the depths of "true love." Charles Dickens wrote some stories that were entertaining and satirical; later his "criticism of the age" came through in his works. He wrote from personal experiences, but used them simply as inspiration for his characters and plot development.

I can find nothing to indicate that the aforementioned authors presented their work as anything but fiction. I also can find nothing that indicates that DeFoe was overly concerned with Puritan criticism. The republican Commonwealth of England, ruled by the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell ended in the mid-1600s, when Charles II returned to the throne. Many of the Puritans (who were so out of favor) then emigrated to the British Colonies in America.

The novel Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, almost sixty years later, and I can find nothing to indicate that Puritan beliefs held any sway over him. As mentioned above, he was much more concerned regarding the Tories and the hold they had over him.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Dickens and Austen both had an agenda. Austen chose to represent aspects of Victorian social life by focusing on marriage and relationship customs. Dickens did this as well, but relied more on social issues. Dickens wrote with a mix of realism and satire. He wanted people to acknowledge and own the problems with their society. His goal was to expose injustice and bring about change. His most common targets were the Poor Law and the legal system. Dickens was actually instrumental in bring about the change he sought, and was partly responsible for the appeal of the Poor Law.